Form over matter?


'We promise not to screw it up'

Those are the confident words of Marissa Mayer, the much lauded CEO of Yahoo! Inc on the announcement of the purchase of micro-blogging site Tumblr. A statement from the young Tumblr founder Mr Karp, allays fears that Tumblr's brand might be damaged by the sale to Yahoo!: 'We're not turning purple."

So if the brands are being kept separate, the leadership is separate, the $1.1bn pricetag seems rather steep for something that won't visibly add something to Yahoo!'s brand or its core business. And yet it is not the first time that Mayer makes an surprising acquisition in her shake-up of the internet giant. The question then, is what is the rationale for these seemingly diverse investments? I cannot believe that it's an attempt to seem young and hip as some commentators have suggested, but rather a more radical shift for the company and how it engages with consumers.

Yahoo! was built as a portal rich in content, but as the internet has evolved consumers have started to divide their tasks between search and social rather than entering the internet through content rich portals. Yahoo still attracts more than half a billion consumers every month in more than 30 languages with its extraordinary breadth and depth of content, but its demographic – early adopters at the time it launched – is ageing and its marketshare is not what it once was. To secure the future of Yahoo! Mayer is doing something radical to the brand – rather than just refreshing the look and feel, she is bringing it back to the roots of its DNA and using that to inform how how it behaves.

The startups acquired by Yahoo! use innovative formats to convey content, and as such they are the perfect complement to the giant's expertise in producing content. They don't just appeal to a younger demographic because their brands are cool, but because they are designed around the way we read content today – in snippets and images rather than long-form articles, and seen through this lens, the acquisition of Tumblr and Summly, are less about relying on their perceived cool but about behaving in a younger way.

Through her transformation of Yahoo! Mayer is teaching us all a valuable lesson: that today brand isn't just what you stand for, it's what you do.